Prosen-Clova: Airlie Memorial To Hill Of Couternach

The Goal (NO 361639, 459m)
Hill of Couternach (NO 356659, 512m)

13.7 kilometres
470 metres of ascent

Couternach route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

The Airlie Memorial stands on the shoulder of Tulloch Hill, which is the prow of a long ridge separating Glen Prosen to the west from Glen Clova in the east. It’s another of those places conjured into legendary status in my childhood, because my father would often point it out and extol its virtues as we drove past on our way to somewhere else entirely. Every now and then in adult life I would remember that I still hadn’t got around to visiting it. So a few days short of the winter solstice, with limited time on my hands, I decided that Airlie Memorial Day had finally arrived, after half a century of anticipation and prevarication.

But as I drove up the road between Kirriemuir and Dykehead, I began to feel a few misgivings. Chainsaws had been at work on either side of the road, clearing fallen trees and branches. A mere fortnight after the destructive winds of Storm Arwen was perhaps not the best time to embark on a walk that began with a climb through forest. Oh well, I thought. We’ll soon see.

I parked in the rough and muddy little car-park at the corner of the Glen Prosen road (NO 371606), where a post-Arwen notice from the Airlie Estate advised me that I should not attempt to clear fallen trees myself, as this could result in injury. That didn’t sound promising, but I set off up the steep track to see what progress I could make. And things went swimmingly at first, until I got high on the exposed southern shoulder of the hill, where all retrospective hell let loose. The path disappeared under the branches of a fallen tree, and beyond that was a blasted landscape of sheared-off stumps, root-systems tilted to the vertical, and heaped branches. Oh dear.

Windfallen trees block track to Airlie Monument
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So I picked my way upwards, occasionally encountering little segments of the track barricaded by fallen timber at either end, but mainly just improvising a line that trended uphill. At which point, I climbed into low cloud. Turning back seemed like it might involve even more effort than just pressing on to the tree-line, and eventually I eased my way through a final tangle of branches to see the silhouette of the Airlie Memorial looming at me through the mist, like the opening paragraph of a Gothic novel.

Airlie Monument in the mist, Tulloch Hill
Click to enlarge

It’s a stonking great pile, twenty metres high, raised in memory of David Ogilvy, 11th Earl of Airlie, who died at the Battle of Diamond Hill during the Boer War.

For a fly-round on a clear day, take a look at this drone footage, which also shows my onward route along the ridge, as well as the surrounding forest in happier days:

I skirted the impressive bank of cotoneaster that surrounds the base of the tower, and headed north along the ridge-line track. Ahead, sunlight began to glimmer, and I eventually walked out into clear air, with a view of my next hill, intriguingly named The Goal.

The Goal from Tulloch HIll
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On the near skyline at right, you can see my next problem. Before rising on to the rounded moorland summits ahead, my track traverses one more little patch of woodland. And it was blocked by another tangle of windfall. Stymied, I looked around for alternative routes, and immediately spotted a track coming purposefully up the hillside from Glen Prosen.

The Goal, new track and new planting at Cotgibbon Plantation
Click to enlarge

It wasn’t marked on my map, but I figured it would either represent another route into the forestry, or circumvent the little patch of trees entirely. So I dropped down a short distance over rough ground, scrambled over a ludicrously deep ditch … and discovered that the new track terminated at a turning circle and what looked like a chemical toilet, a few metres short of a new deer-fence bounding the forestry.

So I found myself obliged to make a long descent through a previously forested area that had been cleared and replanted. I was aiming for the track that starts from a layby on the Glen Prosen road near the old farm of Dalchip and rises on to the western shoulder of The Goal—you can see it in the distance in the photograph below.

New planting at Cotgibbon Plantation, track to The Goal beyond
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I’ve always thought that, if I ever break my leg on the hill, it will be on this sort of reused forestry ground—full of hidden holes and old tangled branches. So I took my time and eventually arrived at the track, and the gate through which it accesses the open hillside. Freedom! From there, it was easy enough to regain my lost height and arrive at the round summit of The Goal.

I’d been seriously contemplating baling straight back down into the glen, given the tiresome clambering that had been involved in getting this far. But the weather was clearing, and the play of low sunlight and mist across the autumnal grass of the ridge was inviting.

Craigs of Lethnot from The Goal
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So I followed the track and the fence in straight-line segments, across the whaleback above the Craigs of Lethnot, and on to Hill of Couternach. In clear weather this would be a fine viewpoint into upper Glen Prosen to the west and the elbow of lower Glen Clova to the north. As it was, I had only tantalizing misty glimpses beneath the clouds.

Glen Prosen from Hill of Couternach
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Glen Clova from Hill of Couternach
Click to enlarge

Then it was back to the Craigs of Lethnot, where I diverted to the little cairn above the crags, for a view of the mist billowing through Glen Clova.

Glen Clova, The Goal and Tulloch Hill from Craigs of Lethnot
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Back at The Goal, I picked up the track down to Dalchip and the road. Ahead, the Airlie Memorial, clear of mist at last, was silhouetted on the sky-line.

Tulloch Hill and Airlie Monument from Cotgibbon Plantation track
Click to enlarge

Once on the tarmac, I had just a mile to walk to get back to the car. But I marched on past the car park for a short distance to take in one last sight. My own photographs suffered from the poor lighting conditions, so I’m offering the one below instead, taken by the Boon Companion on a brighter day:

Scott-Wilson Monument, Glen Prosen
Click to enlarge
© 2021, The Boon Companion

This is the Scott-Wilson Monument, raised in memory of Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Edward Wilson. It’s admittedly an odd place to find an Antarctic memorial—it’s here because Wilson stayed at nearby Burnside Cottage in 1907 and 1908, during breaks from his work on the Grouse Disease Inquiry, and was visited there by Scott. Much of what would become the British Antarctic Expedition was therefore planned within a mile of this out-of-the-way corner in the road.

You can find out more about the monument on the website of the sculptor, Bruce Walker.

4 thoughts on “Prosen-Clova: Airlie Memorial To Hill Of Couternach”

  1. There must have been some pretty brisk winds in that storm. I am not very well acquainted with the nobility of Scotland but that seems to be a pretty impressive monument to one man – who was not a war winning general or the consort of a queen.

    I must admit that I got pretty distracted by reading about Edward Wilson’s efforts to discover the cause of the ‘grouse disease’. The thought of all those parcels of grouse in various states of decomposition following him by post in whatever part of the UK he visited took my fancy.

  2. Yes, Storm Arwen caused a lot of destruction, and a couple of deaths. We had thousands of homes without power for several days, some for more than a week. A couple more storms since then blew from a different direction and brought down more trees, cutting off power to some homes again.
    The Airlie Monument is certainly grand, and all the more impressive for having been built on top of a hill with no road access. It seems to be a copy of the gatehouse of the old Ogilvie family seat, Airlie Castle:
    Times change. The Airlie estate is still in the hands of the Ogilvies, who owned it for the last seven centuries, but you can now rent the castle as self-catering accommodation–sleeps 18.

  3. I had just started walking the glens during lockdown and Arwen is having a massive impact for me. I can’t get onto the Capel Mounth from Glen Doll and find windfall really difficult to deal with, I fell in woodland climbing up from backwater reservoir to high tree and sustained serious face and neck injuries, which has knocked my confidence. Do you have any tips?

  4. No tips, really, apart from stuff that’s probably pretty obvious: take your time, check the potential route ahead frequently, be prepared to backtrack, be prepared to make wide detours, be prepared to give up. Windfallen coniferous plantations are pretty much impossible, because the trees are packed so tightly; open woodland is easier. At present I’m largely avoiding narrow, winding woodland paths (the Capel Mounth a good example of what I’m avoiding!), and sticking to open countryside, or choosing established vehicle tracks to take me through the trees, since it’s in the interests of the landowner to get these cleared.
    I’m not currently relying on forest paths to get me off the hill at the end of the day, because I don’t want to run into obstacles when pressed for time. But the internet is slowly filling up with walk reports (like the one above) from which it’s possible to glean which routes are currently doable and which are not.
    (In the report above, I forgot to mention that I knew the Dalchip forest track must be passable for pedestrians because I’d seen a vehicle descending the hill on that track—they must have manage to get up, and were planning to go back that way, so I figured it would be straightforward on foot.)

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